Pupils could lose out on face-to-face lessons if they don’t get vaccinated, warn ministers

Parents have been warned by ministers that children could lose out on face-to-face learning unless the vaccine take-up improves.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, and Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, have written a joint letter to parents, urging them to get their children vaccinated.

The letter explains that keeping children in school is a priority for the Government, but they need parents’ help to ensure pupils “are able to stay in face-to-face learning”.

Mothers and fathers should encourage their children to “come forward for the Covid-19 vaccine”, the letter said, adding that this is “one of the best things young people can do” to protect themselves and those around them.

Their intervention comes as vaccine take-up among 12- to 15-year-olds appears to have stalled in England, with just over one in ten (11.6 per cent) of the age group vaccinated. Meanwhile, in Scotland 36.3 per cent of the same age group has been vaccinated.

Mr Javid and Mr Zahawi’s letter has been sent to secondary schools to circulate to parents.

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“We know that students have missed a lot of time in school and college since the pandemic started, and that there is no substitute for face-to-face learning,” it said.

“Keeping students in the classroom in the coming months is therefore a Government priority, both for their immediate and longer-term wellbeing.”

The ministers said that while children are at very low risk of serious illness from Covid, it remains important that they are vaccinated to “reduce the spread” of the virus.

“Young people who get ill will need to miss school or college, and may spread it to others,” they added.

“That is why we are encouraging you all to support your children to get vaccinated and to continue to test regularly. This will help to detect cases early, reduce spread, and keep students in education.”

Headteachers lambast ‘shambolic’ rollout

Headteachers have complained that the vaccine rollout in schools, which started last month, has been “shambolic”.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “In some cases, the vaccinations have started to happen but not enough trained staff have turned up to schools. Or they say ‘we will do it next week’ and then they shift it to another date. It is hugely frustrating. At the moment there are question marks over how seriously it is being taken.”

The plan to give a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab to 12- to 15-year-olds was given the green light on September 13 after the UK’s chief medical officers said this was necessary to “reduce educational disruption”.

The decision to offer the vaccine to children came despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation deciding not to recommend the mass vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds, as it concluded that the jab would provide only a marginal benefit to that cohort, which is at a low risk from the virus.

But when recommending it to ministers, Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said he and his UK-wide counterparts had taken into account the impact of the pandemic on children’s schooling as well as the risks to their mental health from missing classes.

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